Trauma-Sensitive Yoga: Incorporating Movement in Therapeutic Practices

As medical and mental health clinicians, our role in guiding our patients towards healing is insurmountable. One of the dynamic therapeutics that has been garnering attention recently is the incorporation […]


As medical and mental health clinicians, our role in guiding our patients towards healing is insurmountable. One of the dynamic therapeutics that has been garnering attention recently is the incorporation of movement in the form of yoga into traditional therapeutic practice. Specifically, trauma-sensitive yoga has progressively become a preferred method of therapy for patients dealing with both physical and mental trauma.

The focus of trauma-sensitive yoga is not merely to improve flexibility and strength. Instead, its purpose is to integrate the body and mind, enabling a greater capacity to process trauma. By combining breath with movement, the practice encourages embodiment, mind-body connection, and self-regulation of physiological arousal associated with trauma.

Understanding Trauma-Sensitive Yoga

Trauma-sensitive yoga is a body-based intervention specifically designed for people who have experienced trauma. It is different from traditional yoga in that it’s therapeutic—it emphasizes emotional safety, choice, and creating a respectful relationship with one’s body.

The primary objective is helping individuals feel safe within their bodies, during a time when their bodies may feel like the most unsafe place. Trauma can prompt a disconnection from the physical self. Hence, a trauma-aware yoga practice aims to bridge that gap, fostering a sense of body ownership.

Benefits of Trauma-Sensitive Yoga

1. Regaining Body Trust:

A crucial element of overcoming trauma is to rebuild trust in one’s body. Instead of focusing on ‘perfecting’ yoga poses, trauma-sensitive yoga encourages patients to explore their bodies in a safe and supportive environment.

2. Improving Emotional Regulation:

By linking breath to movement, trauma-sensitive yoga can enhance emotional regulation. This practice provides patients with self-soothing techniques they can use outside of the therapy room.

3. Boosting Mind-Body Connection:

This form of yoga cultivates mindfulness, the practice of being fully present in the moment. Mindfulness can help patients stay grounded during moments of stress, panic, or fear.

Incorporating Trauma-Sensitive Yoga into Practice

When looking to incorporate trauma-sensitive yoga into your practice, it’s essential to understand that the patient’s comfort and safety are of utmost importance.

Any form of yoga used in therapy should be adapted to meet individual needs, making it indispensable to have an open dialogue with patients to understand their comfort levels. Also, consider integrating trauma-sensitive yoga as a complementary tool, not a standalone therapy. Use it in conjunction with traditional therapeutic methodologies for a holistic approach.

Ensure that patients are given choices in their yoga practice. Allow them to adjust or stop a posture if they feel uncomfortable. Trauma-sensitive yoga instructors will always give their students a choice, especially when it comes to touch. Remember, the goal isn’t to perfect the pose, but to create the opportunity for patients to reconnect with their bodies.

Actionable Steps

1. Get Proper Training:

While all yoga can be beneficial, trauma-sensitive yoga requires specific therapeutic training. Consider getting formally trained or partnering with a trauma-sensitive yoga teacher.

2. Learn About the Patient’s Trauma History:

A detailed understanding of patients’ histories can guide the integration of yoga into therapeutic practice.

3. Prioritize Safety:

Ensure your practice space feels safe, inviting, and is free from triggering stimuli. Use soft lighting, neutral décor, and secure boundaries.

4. Patient Consent:

Always ask for a patient’s consent before suggesting any movement or physical contact during the session. Respect their space and autonomy.

5. Monitor Progress:

Regularly check on your patient’s progress, comfort, and concerns. Be patient and empathetic, as healing from trauma is a slow and often non-linear process.

6. Contract an Instructor

If you are not interested in teaching yoga yourself but see the benefits it may provide your clients. Consider contracting with a local yoga instructor who has trauma-sensitive yoga training. It will be a win-win-win for your clients, the yoga instructor and your clinic.

In conclusion, trauma-sensitive yoga is a beneficial addition to therapeutic practice, helping patients reconnect with their bodies and move forward in the healing process. However, it requires specific training, empathy and patience to be successfully implemented. By integrating movement into therapeutic practices, we can provide our patients with tools they can carry into their daily lives, promoting self-care and ongoing recovery.

Photo by Dylan Gillis on Unsplash

Written by AI & Reviewed by Clinical Psychologist: Yoendry Torres, Psy.D.

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